Spotlight series #57: Dale Martin Smith

rob mclennan
3 min readJan 4, 2021


Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.


Sonnets have preoccupied my attention for the past couple of years. I like the resistant form, the pressures of syntax and beat. Sonnets are little soundings, architectures for listening into things. And they build on themselves. Mostly, I wonder about the spiritual history of North America, and how blunt materiality makes such an inquiry possible. The sonnet has been an engine of that possibility.


[Dark moon drifts in black sky. Floorboard spider]

Dark moon drifts in black sky. Floorboard spider
encounters newness. The barometer spins.
Focus or drift out into edges where
senses locate sharp divide. To think
into drywall and darkness. A sky is kin
to canopy. Can’t count the continuous.
And pages magnify. Stand and invite
feelings of modesty. Wet grey landed
sand glass. Seek aged asters and cold windows.
Clean scents of juniper standards. Again
to unsettle the easy marks. Waves of
concrete stillness. Apprehend amber smoothness.
And light glows in moody restoration.
Insist on grass, alert to things of a day.

[There was a story. There was a time]

There was a story. There was a time.
There was a distinct sense of measure.
There was a heat. But never calm. Messiness.
Live oak. How green bottle tops exhale plastic.
Consume the gaze. Each arm smooth and dispatched.
Skull heart stands in lonely fiddler corner.
One might crave honey sweetness or dare
uncommon sanctimony. Oppose the dark
corner dryly. Across a runway distance,
leaves of the city spangle, surprise.
Sip warm cups of singularity.
See tangled stems adhere to her eyes.
Fair-minded bark of pear. Weep on ancient
doorways, as if to know what scatters.

[Our moccasins crack. Tear the inside]

Our moccasins crack. Tear the inside.
A bruised feature on the open field.
A party, a sign. Whiskey. A strain of plague.
And here, mysterious mother of profane
distribution. I ply my tricks in play.
Pay up, the machine is waiting. Like beans
and birdsong. A crow stands in water.
Rye and corn and hops and wheat. Feather
headdress, serpents in the mouth. Night like an axe.
This decoy life is turned upside down.
We see and enter, wounded. The fullness
of being. I have seen clouds consume
local magic. As if a pub in New World
crime intervened with bleak sincerity.

A poet and literary scholar, Dale Martin Smith was born in Dallas, Texas. He earned a BA and PhD in English from the University of Texas, and an MA in Poetics from New College of California. He is the author of the full-length poetry collections Slow Poetry in America (2014), Black Stone (2007), and American Rambler (2000). A new collection, Flying Red Horse, will be published by Talonbooks in fall 2021.

In a recent editorial, Kim Dorman notes that Smith’s “poems are auto-biographical; personal, yet universal. They are permeated with history and geography; socially aware and impassioned. At the same time, they can be quiet, even tender. Dale weaves textures of culture and memory that explore and question the experience of being alive in a volatile world.”

Smith’s scholarly contributions include Poets Beyond the Barricade: Rhetoric, Citizenship, and Dissent after 1960 (2012) and two edited editions, An Open Map: The Correspondence of Robert Duncan and Charles Olson and Imagining Persons: Robert Duncan’s Lectures on Charles Olson (both 2017), for which he received Simon Fraser University’s Charles Olson Award. His essays and poetry have appeared in Poetry, The Walrus, LA Review of Books, Boston Review, and Lambda Literary. With Hoa Nguyen, he edited Skanky Possum, a literary zine and book imprint, 1998–2004. Smith joined the faculty of English at Ryerson University, Toronto, in 2011.